Vietnamese museums are missing out on Google’s online global art platform dooming much of its best work to obscurity.
The Google Art Project, launched on February 1, 2011, has enjoyed participation from 151 museums in 40 countries including many in Southeast Asia.
Critic Nguyen Anh Tuan said the online museum makes distance irrelevant.
“The pieces can be seen all over the world. The promotional potential is huge,” Tuan said.
He said many museums have used the platform to hook potential visitors, but those in Vietnam lag far behind.
Paintings by Vietnamese contemporary artist Tran Luong and Nguyen Quan were introduced on the Google platform through Singapore’s National Heritage Board.
The Vietnam Fine Arts Museum has no presence in the digital space.
A representative of the museum said: “(Digitizing) work has been rather stagnant. And we have not thought about building an online museum.”
The spokesman cited a shortage of funds.
But critic Nguyen Anh Tuan dismissed the excuse, saying money or technology isn't the problem.
“It’s a matter of the awareness of the museum’s managers… The question is you wether you want to do it or not.”
Without a digital database, he says Vietnamese art remains largely unknown to the world.
"La Marchand de Riz” (The Rice Seller), a 1932 painting by late artist Nguyen Phan Chanh
In May of last year, a painting by late Nguyen Phan Chanh was mistaken by Christie’s International in Hong Kong as an unsigned work by a Chinese trainee and valued at just US$75.
Sfter specialists recognized the the artist’s signature on the back of the canvas, the 1932 work “La Marchand de Riz” (The Rice Seller) fetched a record price for a Vietnamese artist’s work of HK$3.03 million ($390,000).
“The provenance is impeccable,” Jean-Francois Hubert, Christie’s senior consultant for Vietnamese art, said in the salesroom. “It’s in its original frame by Parisian framer Gardin and it was exhibited in 1934 in Napoli.”
Painter Le Huy Tiep said he has visited museums in many countries near Vietnam, and they all have digital collections.
“We are very outdated,” Tiep said.
A platform to promote
Critics say Vietnam also lacks critical expertise which has lead to confusion between authentic copycat work.
Nguyen Hai Yen, former researcher at the Fine Arts Institute and the Fine Arts Museum, said: “The son of a big artist once mistakenly sold a fake of his father’s paintings to a foreign collector.”
The mistake was fixed later, but Yen did not specify how.
Christie’s and Sotheby’s have relied on a book Yen published three years ago featuring Vietnamese fine art from the Indochina period to identify and value Vietnamese art.
The book is only published in the US.
Two years ago, Vietnam's Fine Arts Museum asked for Yen’s expertise to build a database of the 200 pieces on exhibition, but she said the number was modest compared to the whole collection.
Painter Tiep said Vietnam’s government and art management officials have a “very weak idea of creating a fine arts database.”
Tiep said the database will require insight and first-hand experience from artists and critics from the early stages of the country’s art history like Yen.
Many of those sources have died, and if the officials delay further, they will have no living resources on which to rely, he said.